Peer 'viewed expenses as in lieu of salary'

A former Tory peer accused of lying about his expenses told a court he viewed the system as being "in lieu of salary".

Lord Taylor of Warwick is accused of claiming for travel costs between a home in Oxford and the House of Lords, when he actually lived in the capital.



He told the jury at Southwark Crown Court that he had acted on advice from Lord Colwyn that he should state his address as being outside of London.



Lord Taylor said: "It was in lieu of salary because there was no realistic prospect - because of the image of the House of Lords - of lords being paid.



"The policy was to claim the maximum because the reality is, in terms of expenditure, you were spending far more than you were able to claim back.



"This was a contribution towards your costs."



He answered "no" when asked by Mohammed Khamisa QC, defending, if he had ever made false claims for allowances or been in trouble with the police.



Lord Taylor said he took a significant pay cut when he entered the House of Lords.



When he was a lawyer, he said he earned about £100,000 a year, but it "dropped alarmingly" to £50,000 when he spent most of his time on his parliamentary duties.



The former Tory peer described how he was brought up in a poor area of Birmingham, and how he reached his position as the first black member of the House of Lords through careers in law, the media and charity work.



He told the court how he was offered a peerage by John Major in 1996 after narrowly missing out on a seat in Parliament a few years before, and how he learned to tolerate constant racial abuse.



Lord Taylor said he considered turning it down, but was persuaded to take it by his ex-wife. He said: "She asked me, how many other black lords do I know. I said there aren't any. And she said, 'Well, you have got to take it'."



He said he felt he had made a big commitment when he took his seat in the Lords at the age of 43. He added: "A lot was expected of me.



"I had great respect for John Major, and frankly, I didn't want to let him down."



Mr Khamisa asked him how he learned about the system for claiming expenses in the House of Lords.



He said he remembered being given some very brief verbal advice and a guidebook, but he relied on speaking to other members.



Lord Taylor said: "We were told about the various categories and you discussed those things with the other peers."



He said it was made clear to him that expenses were not seen in the typical sense, when people are paid back money they have already spent.



The former Tory peer said: "They were actually allowances.



"It was very different to the House of Commons, because there you were paid, but in the Lords you were unpaid.



"I very quickly got the impression that they were allowances in lieu of salary."



He spoke about a conversation he had with Lord Colwyn in 2003 with regard to having an address outside London.



"He said it was perfectly acceptable, but he did stress you have to have a family connection," said Lord Taylor.



He added that Lord Colwyn was "paternalistic" towards him.



"He was a senior peer. He'd been in the House of Lords for many years.



"I wouldn't have called him a mentor, but he'd approached me when I entered the House of Lords. He was paternalistic."



Lord Taylor told the jury that his colleagues in the Lords did not believe they were misusing the expenses system.



"Not for a moment did I think that they thought they were doing anything wrong because they weren't that type," he said.



Earlier the court heard character evidence from Harvey Thomas, who was press and public relations director for Margaret Thatcher during her time as prime minister.



Mr Thomas was introduced to Lord Taylor when he was an unsuccessful Conservative parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham in the 1992 general election.



The two men stayed in touch because they were "actively committed Christian people", Mr Thomas said.



When asked by Mr Khamisa, defending, how he would describe Lord Taylor, he replied: "He was possibly a little too trusting and possibly not pushy enough."



He added: "He was a very trusting individual. If I would call and say something, I wouldn't expect him to question it at all."



Lord Taylor, 58, of Lynwood Road, Ealing, west London, is on trial facing six allegations of false accounting on various dates between March 2006 and October 2007.



The prosecution says he wrongly claimed for travel as well as night subsistence.



The former Tory peer said: "They were actually allowances.



"It was very different to the House of Commons, because there you were paid, but in the Lords you were unpaid.



"I very quickly got the impression that they were allowances in lieu of salary."



He spoke about a conversation he had with Lord Colwyn in 2003 with regard to having an address outside London.



"He said it was perfectly acceptable, but he did stress you have to have a family connection," said Lord Taylor.



He added that Lord Colwyn was "paternalistic" towards him.



"He was a senior peer. He'd been in the House of Lords for many years.



"I wouldn't have called him a mentor, but he'd approached me when I entered the House of Lords. He was paternalistic."



Lord Taylor told the jury that his colleagues in the Lords did not believe they were misusing the expenses system.



"Not for a moment did I think that they thought they were doing anything wrong because they weren't that type," he said.



Earlier the court heard character evidence from Harvey Thomas, who was press and public relations director for Margaret Thatcher during her time as prime minister.



Mr Thomas was introduced to Lord Taylor when he was an unsuccessful Conservative parliamentary candidate for Cheltenham in the 1992 general election.



The two men stayed in touch because they were "actively committed Christian people", Mr Thomas said.



When asked by Mr Khamisa, defending, how he would describe Lord Taylor, he replied: "He was possibly a little too trusting and possibly not pushy enough."



He added: "He was a very trusting individual. If I would call and say something, I wouldn't expect him to question it at all."



Lord Taylor, 58, of Lynwood Road, Ealing, west London, is on trial facing six allegations of false accounting on various dates between March 2006 and October 2007.



The prosecution says he wrongly claimed for travel as well as night subsistence.